Fantasy Baseball by Alan Gratz
I've been sitting on this book for at least two months. I got it when Gratz was in town for a book signing* at Little Shop of Stories I was worried I wasn't going to like it. So I put off reading it.
Alex Metcalf wakes up one day in Ever After where all storybook and fairytale characters live. This alternate world is just beginning a baseball tournament. Alex finds himself on the Oz Cyclones team bus. Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz is the pitcher and captain. Toad from Wind in the Williows is the shortstop. Br'er Rabbit plays third. The rest of the team is made up of less famous Oz characters.
Each member on the winning team gets one wish granted by the Wizard. Dorothy is determined to win a showing with the Wizard. Alex was born to play baseball and will be the Cyclones new first baseman. They go on to play such teams as the Little Women, (Jo, protects her pitcher behind the plate) a Manga team, and Mother Goose.
I knew I was going to enjoy the baseball aspect of this story. It was the fantasy and the classical characters I was concerned about. I was only familiar with a few of the characters. (I've never read many of the these classics, like Wind in the Willows)
I worried for nothing. Fantasy Baseball was easy to fall into. My lack of classical book knowledge didn't lessen my enjoyment. Toad, the player and the politician was one of my favorite characters. Gratz also includes a few contemporary characters. Lester from Ingrid's Savvy drives the Cyclone team bus and a pig that sounds very much like Olivia is the pitcher for the pigs team.
In the first game thanks to Alex everyone laughs at the Big Bad Wolf. The Wolf is not happy, throughout the story he pops in and out in various disguises trying to catch and eat Alex. I really enjoyed this Wolf as the bad guy. It gave the story just the right amount of danger. I absolutely loved Alex's security detail, Nanny Mae and her cat Mrs. P. All Nannies are a part of the Wizard's secret service. There was a great action filled Nanny face off. Very intense and exciting.
All the characters worry their stories will go unread and they will being forgotten. When that happens they vanish from Ever After. This aspect of the story could've easily become too much lesson about remembering classics but the author doesn't let it. Gratz also does a very good job of balancing baseball and fantasy. There isn't too much baseball for non baseball fans but enough for baseball fans to enjoy. There isn't too much fantasy for non fantasy fans, fantasy fans will appreciate the author's world building. I am glad I finally picked this one up, its great story.
* It was pretty cool to learn that author's Brian Jacques and Ingrid Law were okay with their characters being used. Actually Redwall was one of the stadiums.